Too many wounded, too few drugs in Baghdad hospitals

AMMAN, Jordan – Baghdad’s hard-pressed surgeons, flooded with war-wounded, are amputating the limbs of children and adults with too few anesthetics to block the pain and too few antibiotics to protect the patients, a Greek doctor newly arrived from Iraq reported Saturday. «They don’t have drugs,» Dr Dimitrius Mognie said. «I saw it myself. I opened the cabinets.» Mognie’s account, after a full day touring hospitals during the US bombardment, was a firsthand substantiation of a report by World Health Organization officials here, who said Friday that the Iraqi capital was running low on anesthetics, analgesics and surgical items. On Saturday afternoon, International Committee of the Red Cross workers in Baghdad reported that several hundred war-wounded and dozens of dead had been brought to four city hospitals since Friday. The ICRC could not say how many were civilians, and how many were military. «The hospitals are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with the continuous influx of wounded,» the ICRC’s Muin Kassis said in Amman, Jordan. He said hospital staff also increasingly faced a difficult choice between staying home with their families or on the job. Mognie, 39, a general practitioner from Athens, is familiar with Baghdad’s medical system, having traveled 16 times to Iraq since 1993 as a member of the international aid group Doctors of the World. For Mognie, this trip was dangerously different. He and a colleague managed to get one of the few aid shipments of blankets, food and medicine into Baghdad over the risky road from Jordan. They arrived in the two-truck convoy last Tuesday and he spent his first night in a 30th-floor hotel room with a sweeping view of the city under air bombardment. The next morning at 9.45 a.m., he had just sat down with doctors at a central Baghdad hospital run by the Red Crescent when four American bombs struck across the street. «We all fell to the floor and the glass windows shattered all over us,» Mognie said. Two women in the room were hurt. At a children’s hospital, Mognie saw other bomb victims up close – a 7-year-old girl badly burned on her side, a child with an amputated arm, and a 9-year-old boy named Mahmoud with severe damage to his midsection. The medical staff was evasive when asked what they needed, Mognie said, either because they feared being critical of Iraqi authorities, or because they were ashamed of how they were working. «I can’t speak, but you can go and see,» he said one told him. «I went around and checked the drug cabinets, and of course I know,» Mognie said. «They’re using anesthesia meant for minor surgery for major surgery like amputations.» Because they’re short on crucial general anesthetics, such as Pentothal and nitrous oxide, they’re using Ketamine, a «five-minute anesthetic,» even for amputations, Mognie learned. Surgical teams were injecting child patients with Ketamine every few minutes to maintain the effect, he said. The shortages extend to such items as gauze, tetanus vaccines and antibiotics to protect patients against infection during surgery, said Mognie. «They’re using iodine. That’s a 30-year-old method.» The Greek physician, who speaks Arabic, spent an hour with young Mahmoud and his grieving family. The father, a teacher, made clear what Mognie said he’s always heard, indirectly, from many ordinary Iraqis: They oppose President Saddam Hussein’s government. «We don’t like this situation, 20 years of war,» the father said. Said Mognie, «That’s how they often put it.» The boy had undergone extensive surgery – on the stomach, the removal of the spleen and resectioning of intestines. «Unless it becomes infected, he should live,» Mognie told the reporter. But then he added, «I’m sorry to say, I think he will become infected.»